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Averting democratic dictatorship in Nigeria

IF the question were to be asked about the greatest danger that ever befell democratic governance in the history of Nigeria, the answer obviously will be the All Progressives Congress(APC). Never in the life of our country has a civil administration been worse than military dictatorship than we have experienced in the last three and a half years of the ruling party.

The latest signpost of the emerging full-blown dictatorship in the land is the current ordeal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mr Walter Onnoghen, over allegations of undeclared assets. I have been accustomed to the ways of this administration to the point of accepting that anything is possible in its hands, but I initially doubted when I heard on Friday night that the CJN was already charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. I called my source again to reconfirm the news lest I post a fake news. My source told me matter-of-factly that the CJN had been charged and since I have so much trust in him, I went ahead to flash the news.

Of the over 180 participants in the forum I posted the news, only one person asked “Our own CJN?” The rest just ignored the news as they most probably thought it could not be true. By Saturday, the story had developed. A Dennis Aghanya, former aide of President (Muhammadu) Buhari whose organisation conferred some award on Governor Umar Ganduje at the peak of his dollar bribery scandal suddenly became an anti-corruption crusader and filed a petition against the CJN to the Code of Conduct Bureau on Wednesday, January 8 and charges filed based on it on Friday, the 10th, the very day the petition was presented to the CJN for his response. The speed reminded that it took the same government almost a year to excuse Babachir “Grasscutter” Lawal from government over allegations of corruption without any trial. He is the chief campaigner for the president in Adamawa State today.

The whole rushed prosecution agenda is in clear violation of the constitution and the pronouncement of the appellate court that a serving judge cannot be charged to court without indictment by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

The assault on the CJN, who is the head of the judiciary, is coming on the heels of the serial humiliation of the head of the legislative arm of government, Senator Bukola Saraki, before the same court until reprieve came his way.

The next phase of his own ordeal was abandoning the crime in the violent robbery in Offa, where many lives were lost for political plot. The failed attempt to link the crime to Saraki has led to a situation where the government has totally messed up the trial of the crime committed. Nigerians don’t know anymore who is on trial for the violent robbery as names of some suspects in the crime no longer feature in what could have been political interference.

All this has become a consistent pattern for a government that is called democratic in name but observes the ethos of democratic rule in the breach. Disobedience of court orders, extra-judicial execution of citizens, inhuman treatments of opposing view holders as we have seen consistently in the treatment of Senator Dino Melaye have been the character of the APC government.

The temperament of the Buhari administration has confirmed the lesson of history that dictatorship does not flow from the barrel of gun always but sometimes through uniformed democratic choices.

When people hear the names of Adolf Hitler (Germany) and Benito Andrea Mussolini (Italy), the tendency is to think they were military rulers. The truth, however, is that the political elite and the establishment of their countries allowed the two men to come to power democratically and create a dictatorship.

A key method is manipulating the fears people hold – there was a big fear of socialism in the time of Hitler and Mussolini – both promised to destroy it – the affluent middle class in Italy and Germany both hated socialism and so, therefore, voted Hitler and Mussolini in. It is in the same fashion that President Buhari was voted to power on the strength of anti-corruption propaganda.

Hitler used the enabling act which legally granted him emergency powers for a year to dissolve all other political parties to create a dictatorship the way the ruling APC has been attempting to shut the political space in the country. Mussolini used the Acerbo Laws to rig the electoral system so that the PNF (Italian Fascist Party) only had to gain 25 per cent of the vote in order to gain 66 per cent of the seats – the rest of the seats would be shared out proportionally between the parties. He was also granted emergency powers for a year legally.

The refusal of President Buhari to sign the Electoral Bill that would have given us cleaner election and the sinister plot to force the CJN out of office, roughly a month to election, ostensibly to have a “trusted” man at the helm suggest some desire.

Another key method is being opportunistic – With Hitler, the reichstag fire, be it Nazi created or really a Dutch Communist, allowed Hitler to ban the communist party which was the second largest party and therefore reduced the threat of a communist majority, securing him power. This approach has been the pattern of the decimation of the opposition PDP and all the rails against it by the president and his men. Yet, there are very few men in the APC top echelon today who were not sojourners under the umbrella at some point.

The deployment of influence is also critical for dictatorship. You need influence amongst the rich and the powerful – Hitler and Mussolini both appealed to industrialists who financed the campaigns, the Vatican church who influenced large swathes of Catholics, the old traditional elite, etc. The APC government has been deploying all tactics to either curry or coerce the influential and the rich. It listed Aliko Dangote and co on its campaign council recently, before some afterthought statement was made on Dangote.    >

Former governor of Cross River State, Mr Liyel Imoke, called my attention recently to a book that best explains what is going on in our country. It is titled: “How Democracies Die” and written by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two Harvard political scientists. The book provides a swift survey of authoritarian politics around the world and finds the same pattern repeating itself. Twenty-first century strongmen do not suspend the constitution and replace it with tanks on the streets. They pay lip-service to the constitution while behaving as though it didn’t exist. Think of our experiences  in the last three and a half years.

There are parallels in Erdogan in Turkey, Orbán in Hungary, Maduro in Venezuela, Modi in India (to name just a few): they all deride their opponents as criminals, show contempt for their critics in the media, stoke conspiracy theories about opposition movements and question the legitimacy of any vote that goes against them.

Our clime is so similar. A lot of it is name-calling with sticks-and-stones politics. lt also includes a wide tolerance of violence. Sticks and stones may still break your bones, but only if the name-calling doesn’t silence you first.

We should all be ready to take our country back and the South-South governors have shown the way in the communique of their Sunday meeting read by my brother, Governor Seriake Dickson. They did not speak in forked tongues when they declared inter alia: “It is a fact that this administration has a penchant for flagrant disobedience of and disregard for legitimate and valid court orders. We expect President Buhari to know that democracy cannot survive without respect for the constitution, strict adherence to the rule of law, and separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution… We note that the attempt to drag the CJN to the CCT is also a grave and dangerous escalation of the assault on institutions of state, including the National Assembly and the judiciary. We believe that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has a constitutional responsibility and huge moral obligation to defend our democracy.

“We consider this step, which is directly aimed at humiliating the nation’s highest judicial officer and a prominent son of the region, as totally unacceptable as it is reflective of the South-South story of endless marginalisation and intimidation. The unceremonious removal of former Acting Director General of the Department of State Service, Mathew Seiyefa and his replacement is still very fresh.

“We strongly believe that the regrettable development at the Supreme Court at this critical time, when preparations for the general election are wobbling (with serious concern about the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and security agencies) is capable of causing avoidable anxiety, tension and possible breakdown of law and order in the country.

“We note further that the action undermines confidence not only in the judiciary but also the electoral process that has already commenced, in view of the pivotal role that the judiciary plays in the process of electoral adjudication. We affirm President Buhari should know that the continuous assault on critical institutions of state is a defining feature of a dictatorship and that the President is obliged to live up to his word that he is a born-again democrat, as he assured Nigerians in 2015.”

May our land never be in short supply of men like these!


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